Archive for April, 2012

April 12, 2012

#42) Four years, three marriages, two rings, one wedding

Recently I came across a somewhat verbose posting from a friend of mine about his fourth wedding anniversary.  As I rolled my eyes, an interesting thought occurred to me.  I had first met this person at around the time when he was getting married. I was going to be doing some contract work for him and as we sat, drinking coffee and discussing how things would go, he made a comment to the effect of, “And I see you’re single, so you won’t be moving away from here with a woman.”

Legally, I wasn’t single.  But I had been living by myself for seven months at this point, and my soon to be ex-wife had officially requested a divorce a few days earlier.  I still would wear my wedding ring when I was getting together with friends or clients whom I didn’t feel like telling, but at this meeting, I had deliberately made a point of not wearing it.  Usually we buy clothes–or “bling”–for it to be noticed, but in this case, the comment about the absence of a ring meant that I had achieved my goal; one of many steps on the road from my marriage to my future.

Two months later, I wore the ring for the last time.  By this point, a few people already knew, and the rest would find out when they found out.  Either they would notice my bare hand and ask, or I would tell them.  I was tired of saying, “Oh, she wasn’t feeling well, so she decided to stay home,” or “Oh, she ended up having to work late tonight.”  The last day that I wore my ring happened to be my birthday.  My present to myself was a hiking trip to a remote San Diego County summit, Garnet Peak.  I spent the previous night at a friend’s house in San Diego and then I headed up to the mountain early on my birthday to watch the sun rise.  I buried the ring on the summit.

Later that day, a woman whom I had recently met online sent me a text message, saying she wanted to take me out for dinner to celebrate my birthday.  I had plans with some friends for later that night, but I took her up on it.  There was immediate chemistry between us, although neither one of us were sure if we wanted a relationship just yet.  But by the end of the summer, we were a couple.

Three years later, I was climbing Garnet Peak again at sunrise.  She was with me.  I had used the amazing sunrise that we would see a sales pitch to help convince her to accompany me on this trek to the middle of nowhere, but I didn’t tell her that there would be something else waiting for her on the summit as well.   As she stood admiring the view, I took a knee.  When she turned around, I was holding the ring.  She said yes.

Four years ago, I had no idea that any of this would happen.  It’s exciting, humbling, maybe a little bit scary.  But whatever else it is, it’s great.

So post away, and update your status.  I will read it, and I will get it.  Love songs that used to make me roll my eyes now seem relevant.  I see my future in old couples who walk hand by hand.  When you love someone, you want the whole world to know.  I know that I do.

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April 9, 2012

#41) Learning from Geniuses (geeks): Game 16, Move 37

I came across an interesting chess story the other day.  Yes, I realize, for most people, using the words “interesting” and “chess” in the same sentence is contradictory, but this one contains some good teachable moments – even for those outside the chess world.  (And anyone who reads this blog knows how much I love teachable moments).

In 1984, 21-year old Garry Kasparov, the future world champion, was challenging incumbent Anatoly Karpov for the title.  Karpov had been the reigning champ since 1975, when Bobby Fischer refused to defend his title against him.  The rules of the match stated that the first player to win six games took the prize.  Karpov was crushing his young challenger, leading four games to none (with 11 ties).  In the sixteenth game, after 37 moves, Karpov offered Kasparov a draw, which was accepted.  At the time, no one had any idea that this unspectacular activity would be discussed (and blogged about) in the decades to come.

Many experts who have since analyzed the position at the point where Karpov offered a draw have said that he could have easily won the game, taking a commanding 5-0 lead.  It’s easy to assume that, after falling behind so early, Kasparov might have become discouraged and lost the match soon afterward. As it turned out, following the draw, Kasparov started mounting a comeback.  After losing a fifth game, he won three, but following many more ties–40 total–the match was called off.  The two players battled again in 1985 under different rules, and Kasparov won.

Garry Kasparov would go on to make waves both in and out of the chess world.  He defended his title against Karpov in 1987 and 1990, but all the while, he was feuding with FIDE (Federacion Inernationale des Eschecs, or World Chess Federation; pronounced “fee-day”), the governing body of professional chess.  Kasparov formed his own organization, the Professional Chess Association.  In 1993, when he defended his title against Englishman Nigel Short, he did so under the jurisdiction of the P.C.A., not FIDE.  FIDE organized a championship match between Karpov and challenger Jan Timman, which Karpov won.  In 1997, Kasparov was defeated by a computer called Deep Blue, after which he speculated that the machine was being “fed” moves by its inventors.

While Kasparov would retire from chess in 2005, he would remain an active political figure, outspokenly opposed to Gorbachev, Putin and other Soviet leaders.  At one point, Kasparov considered running for the presidency, but withdrew.

As polarizing a figure as Kasparov became, one could make the case that had Karpov not offered him a draw in a game he should have won, none of it would have happened.  The story of Game 16 illustrates some interesting points:

  • You never know when you might be on the threshold of victory.
  • You never know when, or how, an event – as unspectacular as it may seem – might impact the future.
  • Sometimes, geniuses can miss simple details, which are obvious to mere mortals.

To be sure, most peoples’ lives haven’t been deeply affected by whether Karpov or Kasparov was the champion, or whether chess is governed by FIDE or the P.C.A.  But it’s interesting to consider the impact that a seemingly inconspicuous move might have had on the game.  Like the removal of Yankees first baseman Wally Pipp (replaced by Lou Gehrig) or the chance meeting on Church Road in Liverpool between young John Lennon and even younger Paul McCartney, Karpov’s draw offer became part of history in a way that no one who witnessed it could have predicted.

April 5, 2012

#40) Learning from idiots, part 5/How not to complain, part 1: Samantha Brick

I don’t hate Samantha Brick because she’s beautiful.  I don’t hate her at all; in fact, I like this latest internet phenomenon, not because I agree or sympathize with her, but because she has provided some good life lessons.

For those of you who haven’t been online in a few days, Samantha Brick is a British woman who recently published an article about how tough it is to be beautiful.  She points out that she’s never been asked to be a bridesmaid because she’s more attractive than most of her friends; she’s lost out on promotions because of other female co-workers’ jealousy, and so forth.

Needless to say, there’s been quite a backlash, to say the least.  In fact, one might say that Brick’s fate is parallel to that of Alexandra “Asians in the Library” Wallace (remember her from last spring?) in that at best, she is ridiculed; at worst she is hated.  But unlike her American counterpart, Brick’s plight has some pretty good teachable moments.  The problem wasn’t entirely the point that she made: it was how she made it.

Right or wrong, Brick ‘s essay was based around an idea: sometimes, “having it all” isn’t as great as it seems.  In the right hands, perhaps it could have been developed into a piece that made readers open their eyes instead of roll them.  Brick’s problem wasn’t that she complained.  It was that she complained without any kind of humor, without taking any kind of responsibility, or without any kind of solution or elevation.

Humor is important, and you want the laughs to be with, not at you.  Brick doesn’t seem to have much of a sense of humor about herself; she speaks resentfully of her husband’s suggesting that she “laugh off bitchy comments from other women.”

She also has a double-standard when it comes to responsibility.  Apart from the fact that she apparently has never heard the phrase “you take the good with the bad”, she bemoans being judged “harshly on what I look like”, even as she describes her clothes in detail and seems to take enjoyment in bartenders paying her tab or strangers picking up her cab fare.

The main problem, however, is that, at the end of the day, Brick is really just complaining.  Even if she was ugly as sin, throwing herself a pity party probably wouldn’t have gotten her much sympathy.  Sorry to break it to you, Sam, but you’re not the only person in the world who has problems.  If you want to play the “my life sucks” game, there will always be someone who can beat you at it.  Complaints about life do not a story make; it’s when someone transcends bad circumstances and betters their own life and the lives of others that something has truly been accomplished.  The closest thing to a solution that Brick presents is the clock: she concludes by saying that she as she enters her 40s, she welcomes the “wrinkles and gray hairs that will help her blend into the background.”

Well, we’ll just have to wait and see about that.  I don’t wish Brick any ill will; she could be smoking hot or completely ugly, and my life would be the same.  However, I can’t help but speculate that, for whatever she may feel like she’s learned from the last few days, in the years to come Brick may experience some teachable moments of her own based on two of the world’s time-honored truths: You don’t know what you have until it’s gone, and be careful what you wish for.

April 2, 2012

#39) Learning from idiots, part 4: AWC never says die

How long would you keep emailing a prospect who had expressed interest in your services?

In the case of AWC, it’s three years and counting.  When I was starting www.findmymusicteacher.com, I looked at a variety of possible web designers and programmers.  Although I went with a different bidder, AWC continued – and continues – to follow up with me by email, on an average twice per week.  As somebody who has a habit of giving up when I don’t seem to be making much progress, I can’t help but have a certain weird admiration for that kind of persistence.  No, they haven’t gotten my business; I haven’t even gotten around to writing back to them and telling them that their service is not required.  (Yes, I know that begs the question why do I have time to write a blog about it?)  I also realize that the emails I get from them are undoubtedly automated; not the work of an impassioned copywriter who will stop at nothing to win new clients.  But the lesson is the same: enough persistence will get you noticed, one way or another.

A friend of mine told me that his dad always said, if you hang around outside a night club long enough and ask every girl who comes out if they’ll sleep with you, eventually one will say yes.  You’ll probably get smacked in the face a couple of times, and perhaps have to deal with an irate boyfriend or two, but ultimately, stubbornness will carry the day for you.   Whether you’re trying to get paid or get laid, sometimes you just can’t take no for an answer.

So will I use AWC next time I need a site built?  Possibly.  How long will I continue to let myself receive their emails?  I don’t know.  How long will they keep sending them?  Can’t help you on that one either.  But even though they never provided the service about which I had originally contacted them, in their own unique way, AWC has inspired me.

April 2, 2012

#38) Learning From Idiots, Part 3

Talk about hating your job.

Hans Url, a 56-year old Austrian man, was told that the government disability benefits he was receiving would run out if he refused a job that had been found for him.  He responded by sawing off his own foot to remain on disability.

As bizarre as the story is, and as unsympathetic a character as Url may be compared to the countless people in the United States and elsewhere who are desperate for work, I’ve caught myself thinking about his plight since I first heard about it last week.  When I’ve found myself being less than thrilled about work, I think at least I don’t hate my job enough to cut my own foot off.  Come to think of it, I’ve never had a job–even working in a Greyhound bus station or teaching special education in South Los Angeles–that I’ve hated so much that I would consider doing something like that.

It’s safe to say, too, that Url is obviously not quite right in the head.  Like the killers profiled in Jonathan Kambouris’s Last Meals Project (see D-Theory #24),   Url is a human being, however inappropriate and dangerous his actions may have been.  No, he doesn’t get many sympathy votes when compared to people who suffer such devastating injuries through no fault of their own, but he obviously was in some sort of emotional pain and distress.  After all, nobody wakes up in the morning wanting to cut off their own foot, no matter how much they hate their job.  Whether he’s a dangerous psychopath or a victim of an inefficient government bureaucracy, Hans Url’s story stood out to me among all of the other news items I’ve consumed recently.

The irony is that, for all of his efforts, Url may have to go to work after all.  Like Cary Elwes’s character from the movie “Saw”, his efforts may be all in vain.